California has long had the perception of having some of the strictest laws and regulations on the books for gun owners. It is important to make sure you fully understand the law before you carry or operate any firearm within the state. Always be mindful of the fact that violating gun laws can carry serious consequences, and good intentions or honest misunderstandings will not prevent otherwise-responsible gun owners from finding themselves with major criminal or civil liabilities when they fail to follow the rules.
Prior to 2022, California’s gun laws were relatively robust yet straightforward. A booklet made available by the state government needed only 17 pages to effectively summarize gun rules in the state as of 2021.
Here are some examples:
- The prohibition of gun ownership by those convicted of certain violent felonies or meeting other criteria (supplements but does not replace similar federal laws)
- The steps of the process for purchasing (or selling) a firearm in the state
- Transportation rules for firearms
- Carefully defining the circumstances where the use of deadly force would be legally justified
- Example: The “right of self-defense ceases” once an attacker poses “no further danger” to you; it would therefore be illegal to shoot a home invader in the back as they flee after scaring them off with a warning shot.
Many of California’s gun laws prior to 2022 re-enforced or expanded federal laws or endeavored to more effectively prevent guns from getting into the hands of prohibited parties. In the wake of mass violence incidents throughout the country, further expansion was prioritized in 2022.
California 2022 Gun Laws
The situation with California’s gun laws became less straightforward in 2022 when several new pieces of legislation were passed by the state government in July, and even more so when some of those laws immediately had their legality or enforceability called into question.
Five individual bills were signed into law in the middle of summer 2022:
- AB 2571 prohibits the marketing of firearm-related products to minors.
- AB 1621 puts additional restrictions on "ghost guns," which are homemade or kit-built firearms with no registration information and often lack serial numbers entirely.
- AB 1594 establishes a standard of conduct to be followed by the firearms industry to promote safety and responsibility.
- AB 2156 requires a state-level license for anyone manufacturing a firearm (federal licensure is already required for manufacturers). This includes using 3D printers to create firearms or parts for firearms.
- SB 1327 allows a private citizen to use the civil court apparatus to file suit against any party who makes, sells, distributes, imports, or exports ghost guns or assault weapons (both of which are effectively banned in the state under other legislation).
2022 Challenges to California’s Gun Laws
There is also confusion coming from the courts in 2022. The highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, ruled 6-3 earlier that year that a New York law made it unconstitutionally difficult for citizens to obtain a concealed carry permit for a handgun. Because California’s concealed carry laws were essentially the same as New York’s, they were likewise reversed by this decision. The previous rules required applicants to demonstrate "proper cause" for wanting a concealed carry permit and gave local and state officials broad authority to determine what circumstances meet that bar. With New York’s "proper cause" language deemed unconstitutional, it is expected that California officials will begin to see a large influx of concealed carry permit applications.
The resolution of the New York case immediately opened the door for further challenges in California courts. For example, the rules prohibiting gun sales to people under 21 are now also being debated in the courts. More challenges and changes in the coming months and years would not be unexpected.
2022 Federal Gun Law Changes
It is important for gun owners to be aware of certain changes in rules at the federal level. While previous gun laws were not heavily felt by most Californians due to the state’s existing assault weapon ban, the current round of federal legislation will be applicable to guns and gun ownership in all states.
In June, President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). The BSCA includes:
- $750 million to be distributed at the state level for various crisis intervention programs (for both specifically gun-related initiatives and also more broad mental health and community safety programs).
- New red flag laws that allow courts to temporarily confiscate firearms from someone determined to be a danger to themselves or the safety of the people around them.
- Advises states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database so that more comprehensive background checks can be conducted when people between the ages of 18 and 21 try to purchase a firearm.
- Anyone convicted of a domestic violence offense, who then remains in a serious or romantic relationship, is barred from owning firearms (although misdemeanor domestic violence offenders can have their gun rights restored after 5 years free from criminal conduct).
- Stricter requirements on gun sales and closure of the "gun show loophole"—any individual selling firearms as their main source of income must now register as a Federally Licensed Firearm Dealer, a license which requires the seller to run sufficient background checks.
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FAQS (FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS) About California’s 2022 Gun Law Changes
Q: WHAT IS THE NEW CALIFORNIA GUN LAW?
A: There are several new gun laws at both the state and federal level in California in 2022. Additionally, existing laws are being called into question in state and federal courts. Further details on the individual issues are listed above. If further clarification is required due to an impending legal situation, your next step should be to contact a qualified criminal defense attorney who has experience with firearms issues.
Q: WHAT ARE THE GUN REQUIREMENTS IN CALIFORNIA?
A: There are many different requirements for purchasing, owning, selling, or using a gun at both the state and federal level. These include citizenship requirements, age requirements, background checks, and any number of other factors depending on your particular circumstances.
Q: HOW MANY GUNS CAN YOU OWN IN CALIFORNIA?
A: As with most places in the United States, there is no limit to the number of guns an individual may own in the State of California. There are other restrictions in place to prevent people from quickly amassing an arsenal, however. For example, you may only purchase one handgun every 30 days in California.
Q: HOW STRICT ARE CALIFORNIA'S GUN LAWS?
A: California’s gun laws place clear restrictions on the types of firearms you may possess. They also regulate the frequency and method you may acquire a firearm. Firearms manufacturers are prevented from marketing firearms and related products to minors and can be sued in state court for anything relating to ghost guns or assault weapons.